BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Concerto (rev.1945) [26:53]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise, Op. 83 [9:19]
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)
Suite im alten Stil
, Op. 10 [11:46]
Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO (1895-1968)
Violin Concerto No. 2 ĎThe Prophetsí (1931) [29:27]
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/William Walton (Walton)
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg* (Saint-Saëns)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein (Sinding, Castelnuovo)
rec. EMI Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London, 26-27 July, 1950 (Walton); Sound Stage 9, Republic Pictures Studio, Hollywood, 18 June 1951, 9 December 1953 (Sinding) and 28-29 October 1954 (Castelnuovo). ADD/mono.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111367 [77:25]

Itís hardly surprising that Naxos Historicalís Great Violinists series already features several Heifetz recordings, including his 1949 recording of the original score of the Walton Violin Concerto, coupled with his 1941 version of the Elgar Violin Concerto on 8.110939 Ė see review. Now we have his 1950 recording of the revised version of the Walton, in re-mastered sound as bright as a button and coupled with three other recordings from the early LP era. The back cover of the CD refers to Heifetzís polished elegance, but thereís more to it than that. Some of Paganiniís contemporaries thought that heíd sold his soul to the Devil to obtain such mastery of the violin: they might well have thought the same of Heifetz, when everything here seems grist to his mill.

Only the availability of the same Heifetz recording of the Walton, coupled with other Walton works on a very inexpensive 2-CD RCA set Ė details at the end of the review Ė gives me any grounds for reservations.

The Walton concerto was composed for Heifetz and, while itís good also to have more recent versions, notably from Nigel Kennedy, with the Viola Concerto (not currently available?), Kurt Nikkanen (Nimbus NI6119 Ė see October 2010 Download Roundup), and Naxosís own digital recording with Dong Suk-Kang, a splendid bargain coupled with the Cello Concerto (8.554325 Ė see review and November 2008 Download Roundup), Heifetz still reigns supreme, with Walton and the Philharmonia providing excellent support and Mark Obert-Thorn excelling himself with a transfer which makes the recording sound almost as if it were made yesterday. Even the limitations of mono hardly seem to matter.

After the Walton, the Saint-SaŽns Havanaise inevitably sounds somewhat trite. Naxos have chosen to present these recordings in the chronological order of their setting down, but I could have wished the Walton to have been left until last. Nevertheless, itís churlish to complain when Heifetz weaves his magic here, too, ably abetted by the RCA Orchestra and William Steinberg.

The Sinding Suite is more substantial and it, too, receives a performance that makes me wonder why we donít hear this work as often as the composerís Violin Concerto. This recording is rightly regarded as a Heifetz special.

The final work, Castelnuovo-Tedescoís ĎProphetsí Concerto was also composed for Heifetz. As the notes observe, though it pre-dates his time in Hollywood, it does have a Technicolor quality not unlike Respighi or Korngold. Once more the music presents no problems for Heifetz and the LAPO under Wallenstein. Beecham used to have the knack of making good second-rate music sound first-rate and thatís exactly what all concerned do here.

Iíve already praised the quality of the Walton transfer but the whole of the rest of the programme has received equally fine re-mastering. Iíve heard some fine transfers recently from Beulah and High Definition Tape Transfers, but nothing to excel what I hear on this CD. There were just a few moments in the Castelnuovo-Tedesco when I felt that the treble needed to be tamed a little, but itís not a serious problem.

Naxos already have the superb 1955 Heifez/Reiner recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto in their download-only series (9.80081, available in the UK for £1.99). Perhaps they would consider adding that to the Great Violinists series. For my money, Heifetz is the exponent of the Brahms, taking the opening movement at the only speed that makes sense unless you want to have a work with two slow movements. Only one other recording, from Szeryng, again with Reiner as conductor, also from RCA, came close Ė and thatís deleted.

The only thing that I regret about this fine tribute to Jascha Heifetz is that itís not available in the USA and in several other countries, for copyright reasons. Fortunately, the same recording of the Walton is available inexpensively* on RCA (2 CDs, 74321925752) . See reviews by John Quinn Ė here Ė and Rob Barnett Ė here. Soon recordings of this vintage may not be available in the EU, either, so snap it up while you can.

* John Quinn thought the Amazon price for this recording was a mistake: it wasnít Ė itís currently available from them and our other partners at MDT for even less.

Brian Wilson

One of the greatest historical bargains that Iíve heard for a long time.